The mission of the Florida League is to help college athletes hone their skills on the diamond and gain valuable exposure to professional scouts before heading back to school in the fall. A key component to player growth is the leadership and ability of the head coach. Luckily for anyone who has played in the Florida League over the past 13 years, the coaching staffs have been second to none.
From 2008-10, Leesburg Lightning players were led by former Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP Frank Viola. For the DeLand Suns in 2009 and Sanford River Rats in 2010, it was three-time World Series Champion Davey Johnson. Other former head coaches include: Randy Stegall (current Head Coach at Embry Riddle), Mark Leavitt (current Associate Head Coach at Stetson), Dave Therneau (current Assistant Coach at Stetson), Bryan Peters (current Assistant Coach for the National Champion Nova Southeastern Sharks), Clint Chrysler (current Assistant Coach at Winthrop), Ruben Felix (former Team USA Assistant Coach) and 10 year MLB veteran Eddie Taubensee, among others.
That tradition will continue in the summer of 2017. Five of the six head coaches from last year will return to their post as skipper, with newcomer Bob Rikeman bringing an impressive resume to the new team in Altamonte Springs.
Altamonte Springs Scorpions
Head Coach: Bob Rikeman
Florida League Experience: 1st Year
Coach Rikeman is the latest addition to the Florida League coaching family. He has been involved with college athletics for many years. Aside from head coaching positions at Framingham State College and Newberry College, he served as the head coach of Rollins College from 1994-2005, posting a 349-250 record. In 2004, he led the Tars to a 48-12 mark and a fourth place finish at the Division II World Series. That year, he was named Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year, as well as ABCA South Region Coach of the Year. Rikeman is no stranger to the Florida League or its staff; during his time at Rollins, he coached League President Rob Sitz, League Vice President Stefano Foggi, and Sanford Head Coach Kevin Davidson. Sitz and current Winter Park head coach Chuck Schall also served as assistants to Rikeman during his time at Rollins. Rikeman is the owner of the Scorpions travel ball program, based out of Longwood, FL.
“This is a great opportunity to get back in the game that I love. I’m excited about being involved with collegiate players again … after a 25 year coaching career, that’s what I missed most. There is nothing better than being around young men who love the game of baseball. I’m really looking forward to providing additional opportunities for our Scorpions collegiate players. The Florida League has a major impact on the local community, and in particular, the local youth. My son has been the bullpen catcher for Coach Davidson over the past two years, and I have seen firsthand the impact the players and coaches have had on his development as a person and as a player.” – Bob Rikeman
Head Coach: Rick Hall
Florida League Experience: 8th Year
Florida League Wins: 134 (2nd All-Time)
Coach Hall is the longest tenured head coach in the Florida League, entering his eighth consecutive season as skipper for the DeLand Suns. During his time at the helm, he has racked up an impressive 134 wins, which is the second most all-time. His career achievements include a Florida League championship in 2012, and producing 2014 Florida League MVP Austin Hays in 2014. Coach Hall’s baseball resume includes playing at Berkshire Community College (MA) and Stetson University, where he finished 9th in Division 1 in strikeouts during his junior year in 1978. After a shoulder injury derailed his career, he was hired as pitching coach for the Hatters and held the position for 18 years. In 1998, he left Stetson and was the founding father of the Daytona State College baseball program. When he isn’t coaching for the Suns, Hall serves as the Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of DeLand.
Head Coach: Rich Billings
Florida League Experience: 5th Year (3 as HC)
Florida League Wins: 46 (11th All-Time)
Coach Billings returns for his third year as manager of the Lightning. His first two years have produced 46 wins and an appearance in the 2015 Championship game. Though he is the youngest coach in the league, he has a resume that stands up to anyone’s. Billings was actually a member of the inaugural 2007 Lightning team as an assistant coach. After the summer, he was hired as the head coach of Lake Sumter State College at the age of 23, making him the youngest head coach in the country. He guided the Lakehawks for five seasons before accepting a position with Florida Atlantic University in 2013. He helped the Owls to a Sunbelt Conference Championship and a berth in the College World Series Regional. Billings left FAU in 2014, and spent a year as head coach at his alma mater Leesburg High School. He then reclaimed his old gig at Lake Sumter in 2015, where he currently serves as head coach.
“I love coaching in the Florida League because it gives me a chance to build relationships with young men from all over the country. I get to hear about their college programs and the way they do things in those programs, so in a way I’m learning from other coaches at the same time. I also enjoy giving our players the chance to come into the great baseball community of Leesburg. We have the most loyal fans in the league and I love watching the players interact with the members of our community. It makes for a fantastic summer.” – Rich Billings
Sanford River Rats
Head Coach: Kevin Davidson
Florida League Experience: 9th Year (7 as HC)
Florida League Wins: 162 (Most All-Time)
Championships: 2013, 2014
The Florida League all-time leader in wins will return once again for the summer of 2017. Coach Davidson will enter his second season as head coach of the Rats, and seventh overall season as a head coach. In his debut season with the Rats last summer, KD turned out a 29-17 record and his fourth appearance in the Championship Game, where the Rats fell to the Altamonte Springs Boom in a 5-4 thriller. Prior to his time as skipper, KD served as an assistant to Davey Johnson in Deland (2009) and Sanford (2010). Though his wins mark is top notch, what’s more impressive is the number of players he has coached who have been drafted. Since 2012, 30% of Florida League alumni selected in the draft played for KD. His coaching achievements include two championships (2013-14), four Cy Young Award winners and two League MVPs. As a player, Coach Davidson starred at Rollins College in the early 2000s, and was a 28th round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2002. He played six years in the organization, reaching the AAA level. In the offseason, he is a financial advisor for UBS Private Wealth.
Winter Garden Squeeze
Head Coach: Jay Welsh
Florida League Experience: 3rd Year (2 as HC)
Florida League Wins: 19 (20th All-Time)
Coach Welsh completely turned around the Squeeze franchise in 2016. A year after winning only eight games, Welsh led the Squeeze to 19 wins and a playoff berth. His team also produced 2016 Cy Young Award Winner, Jarred Neal. The success of the team was not a surprise to those in the League office however; they had seen his coaching prowess when he led the Winter Garden Tangelos to the 2015 Futures League title with a record setting 18 wins. Coach Welsh’s previous coaching experience includes time at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Lake Nona High School, Ocoee High School, and his current position at Celebration High School. Off the field, Welsh serves as an adjunct professor of sports media at Saint Leo University.
“I love being a part of each player’s baseball dreams. It may be a small part, but whether it is to go from a Juco to a D1, be a starter on their college team or get drafted—I love playing a role in it. Last year I had three players without scholarships play their way into money. That’s a great feeling. Our players are role models to the young ball players in the community. I believe this is where we make our biggest impression. It is fun to see the youngster’s faces light up during camps or when they take the field with the team. I love the competition, being a part of the camaraderie among the players and building relationships.” – Jay Welsh
Winter Park Diamond Dawgs
Head Coach: Chuck Schall
Florida League Experience: 5th Year (2 as HC)
Florida League Wins: 25 (17th All-Time)
Last summer, in his first year as a head coach in the Florida League, Coach Schall led the Altamonte Springs Boom to the first championship in team history, defeating Sanford 5-4. He spent the previous three summers as an assistant coach for the College Park Freedom and the Diamond Dawgs. Coach Schall has an extensive baseball background that spans multiple decades in Central Florida. Schall was a player at Flagler College from 1982-85. He was named to the 1980s All-Decade team at the school, and currently ranks 5th all-time in school history in walks. Once his playing days ended, Schall moved on to coaching, where he has seen success at every level. His coaching resume includes stints with UCF, Rollins College, Ocoee High School, and Olympia High School. After taking over the Olympia program in 2013, Coach Schall helped the Titans to a #1 national ranking and an undefeated regular season in 2015. During his three years as head coach at Olympia, Schall has had two first round MLB draft picks (Nick Gordon and Juan Hillman), as well as more than a dozen college commitments.
"I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with these young men each summer. The relationships that I have made are invaluable to me. If we can help these kids improve their game and they go back to their programs a better player, then we have been successful." - Chuck Schall